I distinctly recall feeling protected for the first time on the first day I set foot in a Turkish home. I was a young girl who had escaped a war that ruined and uprooted millions of Syrians. I was looking for a place to live in peace with a comfortable bed, on which I could sleep for long periods of time without someone waking me screaming: “Air strike!”
It was my aunt who used to warn me like that. She recently died in the earthquake that devastated the city of Antakya. Her body is still hidden beneath the rubble, as I am writing.
My aunt used to wander in between the houses, shouting, in an attempt to awaken us all. “Air strike! Get out of the house!” she used to cry in a loud, shivering voice. We were all frightened of dying under the wreckage. Our greatest fear was to be hit by Assad’s barrel bombs and being left for dead. We would not flee the house fearing death so much, but rather to avoid becoming trapped under the rubble for days and slowly suffocating.
For a long time we managed to avoid this fate. Yet, it seems inevitable, as we found ourselves facing this tremendous earthquake that has buried us all under the wreckage.
Antakya is not like any other city to me. It is much more than a refuge where I, as a young girl fleeing war, once found sanctuary. It is the only place where I can go about my daily business without scanning the sky fearing the planes of death. It is the only place where I can do everything I enjoy doing leisurely. It is the only city where I can schedule my appointments to the hour, regardless if the generator goes off or an air raid comes in.
Before we arrived in this city we did not have watches. Our appointments were scheduled around raids and bombings. Our evenings started when the air attacks ended. Drinking coffee and other activities took place in the bombing intervals.
How to choose a refuge city? We, Syrians who escaped the city of Latakia, were dispersed in Mersin, which is on the sea, and Antakya, which is close to the Syrian border and a city very similar to Latakia. Similar to such an extent that we changed the names of some of the streets and landmarks to the ones we knew from Latakia, such as the Ceramic and Honda roundabouts and “Haret al-Lawadqa,” where a large number of Latakia families live.
We reached the city on foot, through the woods, carrying only some clothes. Now we return back to our country by car, carrying our coffins. We left as human beings. Now we are back as earthquake victims.
I will tell you about what happened after the earthquake, the level of displacement, the confusion, the return to naught, zero, nothing, which was the starting point of countless Syrians who fled from the regime-controlled zones to the liberated ones. They had to start from scratch to build a new life, before years later they too left for Antakya.
And there, once again, they had to build a home from scratch. Some opened a shop or business. Others found a job before, at last, their kids could start going to school again. And now they have to start all over again. Back to nothing.
Yes, we are nothing. This does not describe just our lives. It refers to everyone else’s lives. It appears in their eyes. Do not be shocked by our many tears and our regrets over homes that were never truly ours.
We paid for them with long exhausting working days and tough jobs, which the Turks left for us. We weep over the nothingness, on which our life rests, over our suffering and our faltering luck.
Despite Antakya being a large jail we were not allowed to leave without a travel permit, which all too often we were not able to secure, we were deeply attached to the city. Now we lament our folly believing that once we were saved, while in reality we only postponed our deaths and altered our way of dying. Now, we sob for not being buried in our own country under the wreckage of our own homes.
Now I just want to shout to my aunt: “The plane has come, aunt!”
I know you are unable to escape this time. But do not be afraid, because the plane came with a different mission. Perhaps to take pictures, or deliver aid, or carry volunteers to help search for you.
“The plane has come, aunt!”
But this time we did not survive as all those other times when you warned us.
“The plane has come, aunt!”
But there were no longer any homes to escape from. We were left with nothing … but naught.
Original article from here.